Judge Mike Rubino was raised to not "kill stare" or "kill point" because it is rude.
There's a point where every man breaks.
Spike TV is slowly trying to make a name for itself in the cable-drama department, abandoning its once sole dedication to professional wrestling and bloopers shows for a small assortment of original action-dramas. First there was the semi-successful rise and fall of Blade: The Series, which may have succeeded if it had been on a different station; now comes their best effort to date: The Kill Point.
Facts of the Case
On a beautiful, sunny day in Pittsburgh, a group of men decide to rob a bank. Rather than using president masks or naming themselves after colors, each goes by the monicker of an animal—their leader appropriately known as Mr. Wolf. Much to their chagrin, the robbery doesn't go off as planned, and the hold-up quickly turns into a hostage situation.
What follows is an eight-episode standoff with Pittsburgh's finest negotiator, Captain Cali (Donnie Wahlberg, ex-member of New Kids on the Block and a serious actor). It's soon discovered that these aren't ordinary bank robbers, but rather Iraq War veterans led by their sergeant (John Leguizamo, Land of the Dead). Can Captain Cali rescue all of the hostages and end this mess? Or are the soldiers after more than just money, perhaps something intangible?
The bank-hostage standoff is a situation that has been visited plenty of times in film and television history, with varying degrees of success. This mini-series seems to borrow ideas and visuals from all of the good movies. It's got some social messages a la Dog Day Afternoon, some slick names and dialogue like Reservoir Dogs, and even some switcheroo's like Inside Man. Yes, it certainly riffs off of what has been done in the past, but it also aggregates these past movies into a cohesive, entertaining, and impressive whole. Because while these prior instances are all great movies, they perhaps never had the opportunity to stretch their legs like a 8-hour mini-series—this is one of The Kill Point's strongest suits.
The Kill Point wastes little time with setup, after all this aired on the self-proclaimed "Man's Station." The bank gets robbed, a couple people get shot, and the stand-off begins. For all the instances in which The Kill Point follows the rules (showing the robbers walk to the bank in slow motion, the head robber saying something pithy as he takes control of the bank, the hard-boiled negotiator who's never lost a hostage, etc.), it also continues to shoot for originality. Here, the robbers are imperfect and the cracks in their phalanx spread quickly. And while they may be after the money, Mr. Wolf, their sergeant, is out to make a point (a kill point!) as well: something about soldiers and the Iraq War.
For as exciting and tense as The Kill Point can be at times, I found it's shoe-horned political messages to be a tad perplexing. The inclusion of U.S. troops and the Iraq War is an integral aspect of the story, however the messages that the show is trying to communicate are at times hypocritical and rather exploitative. This mini-series throws messages like "the Iraq War is a mistake" and "veterans aren't treated well" around in order to advance the story, only to negate any sympathy we may be having for our volunteer army by showing them devolve into mouth-breathing death machines. The Kill Point tries to cleverly marry sharp bank-robbing action with political messages, but these messages are too half-baked and sensational to really make a difference.
Don't think that this mini-series is an eight-hour episode of Hardball; the political messages are far outweighed by the amount of suspense and action built in to every episode. Because the show is eight episodes long, there is plenty of room for character and plot development. The robbers become close to some of the hostages, the plot is able to stretch outside of the walls of the bank, and the show is able to reach an almost-epic feel. The action, and subsequent violence, is handled extremely well; I was surprised at how graphic Spike TV actually allowed this to get, which made the show feel even more like a big-budget action flick.
Thankfully, the eight hours you spend watching this show won't be sullied by poor acting. On the contrary, the two main stars of this joint, Leguizamo and Wahlberg, are perfect foils and fantastic actors. John Leguizamo has really made a name for himself as a top-rate, over-looked, character actor in Hollywood; it's great to see him back in Pittsburgh, this time robbing banks rather than killing zombies. Donnie Wahlberg matches Leguizamo in intensity and passion, believably pulling off the role of head negotiator. The supporting cast of cops and robbers are fairly good, although there are certainly some weak ones mixed in there. Being from Pittsburgh, I must add that no one in this movie actually talked or acted like natives of the city (unlike, say, that other Pittsburgh Police "opus" Striking Distance); for me this felt like watching a Pittsburgh filled with New Yorkers.
The Kill Point was directed mainly by Steve Shill, who has worked on other action shows like The Wire and most recently Knight Rider. Overall, his direction is simple and appropriate. He doesn't worry about setting up unique or artistic camera angles, nor does he employ a lot of extreme long shots; instead he keeps things straightforward and intense. Unfortunately, some of the more impressive action scenes are cheapened by his use of digital cameras. Surely a budgetary constraint, the digital cameras used to tape The Kill Point blur terribly during pan and tilt shots. This might not bother everyone, but to me it made it feel like I was watching something shot on a friend's Sony handheld. The show looked fine during stationary shots, but any time that camera had to move problems arose.
Despite the poor digital video, The Kill Point is presented nicely on DVD. The colors are bright and vibrant, and there's next-to-know defects with the video beyond what I previously mentioned. The sound, on the other hand, is excellent. The 5.1 surround sound offers a great mix of explosions and music (even if the show's score is none too special). Accompanying the series, which is spread out on two discs, is an expansive selection of cast interviews from Spike TV.com. They're all pretty entertaining, but don't delve too deeply into the production side of things. Sadly, the five webispodes, which expand on some of the subplots from the show, didn't make it on to the DVD.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While it may seem freeing to have a story like this told outside the confines of a traditional movie runtime, The Kill Point may have overstayed its welcome. Almost two hours probably could have been trimmed from this mini-series and no one would have cared, but because the show was acting as a sort of pilot season for a possible leap to regular programming, I fear they added too many subplots and characters. The two characters trapped in a closet for 3/4 of the show were useless, and the same goes for the philosophizing sniper who felt more like a Greek chorus member than an actual Pittsburgh police officer.
Then there was the final chase/stand-off which, without giving anything away, felt confusing and claustrophobic. And after the drama dies down, we're treated with a sort of gotcha ending that left me even more confused about the show's message than before. What's here is entertaining, especially when taken at face value, just don't dive too deep…you may hurt your head.
While I linger on the many faults of The Kill Point, I can't help but ultimately like what I saw. Above all of the mixed messages and character issues, there is a solid action-drama here that is worth viewing. Leguizamo and Wahlberg are a joy to watch, and the evolving plot always left me wanted to watch just one more episode (even if it felt overly long in retrospect). Plus, it's always nice to see a heist like this carried out somewhere other than New York City, even if it means shipping in the New Yorkers to play all the parts.
If this is the new direction of Spike TV, then I think we're in for some great entertainment down the line.
GUILTY of two counts of grand theft heisting, six counts of copyright infringement of previously released bank robbery movies, and one count of political shoe-horniness.
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